6 Steps to Developing a Successful Youth Ministry Program

Nothing sparks a fire in the life of a parish quite like a thriving youth ministry program.  Unfortunately, many churches – although their heart may be in the right place – have no idea how to develop a lively program that lasts.  Well, if you are a youth leader, pastor, or a Catholic that wants to help turn your parish’s dull and dying youth ministry program around – you are in luck.  Here are some tips that will turn your program from drab to fab!

Photo by Tiego Cassol

Get Your Pastor’s Support

Any professional will tell you, if you don’t get support from upper management your program will fail.  This is no different in ministry.  Your pastor has to be fully on board in order for your program to succeed.  This does not mean that he needs to be in charge, but that he will be there for help with anything from finances, to advertising your group at Mass and other places, or to offer words of encouragement.  As long as your program is supported by the pastor, you will have the foundation to build a long lasting and enjoyable program.

youth group at church worshiping

Find a GREAT Place to Host the Ministry

The next thing that should be on your list of things to do is to find a place where your group can meet.  Here is my list of must haves when it comes to youth ministry facilities.

  1. The facility should be carpeted.  This allows for good musical acoustics (you can’t have youth ministry without LIVE music) and you don’t have to worry about teens slipping and falling during games and such.  Plus, it just looks nice and modern.
  2. The place should have enough room for a projector screen and speakers.  I don’t mean a small screen, it needs to be BIG enough for everyone to see.
  3. The place needs to be primarily used for youth ministry.  Nothing says “you aren’t a priority” quite like sharing a place with 50 other ministries.  Plus, if you have a dedicated space, it makes it easier to make the facility decor youth focused.

Adults are Facilitators, Not Leaders

Youth programs are for the youth.  That means that the first-line leaders of the program should not be Adults, but should be young adults or representatives from the teens themselves.  The role of adults should be that of a facilitator and spiritual director (if you don’t have an available priest).  Adults should focus on the overall strategy of the program and the goals that should be met – while allowing allow young leaders to take charge in the direct interaction with the teens.  This is not easy to do and it takes time to determine who out of the pool of teens and young adults has the charisma and maturity to lead, but if you allow leadership to flourish among their ranks, you will reap the benefit 7 fold.

Don’t believe me?  Check out this post: Use the Power of Middle Schoolers for Your VBS

youth group out in the woods

Be Challenging and Unique

Teens have a whole host of things that they could be doing throughout the day, and the last thing on their mind is church.  If your program is not fun, unique, and challenging, then there is nothing that is going to attract a teen to leave their games, sports, or other activities to come to your program.  Teens typically want three things: to be entertained (aesthetics), to be listened to (questions and answers to tough questions about the faith), and to be a part of something big (friendship). If you want your group to be magnetic, you need to ask yourself these questions:

  1. What does a teen get at my program that they can’t get anywhere else?
  2. Do the teens at my program have reasons to come back (friends, accountability to youth leadership, leadership roles, answers to hard-hitting questions, etc.)
  3. If I were a teen, would I spend my extra time at my program?
  4. Do I water down the spiritual?  (i.e. do I stick to “Jesus loves you” catechesis, or do I present hard theological, philosophical, and moral topics regularly?)

Challenge your youth leaders and they will challenge your teens.  If there is nothing in your program that the youth can’t get anywhere else, it will shrivel to nothing.

Get EVERYONE in the Church Involved!

Ministry is not one-sided.  If you want to bring more members into your group, you will need to enlist the help of others.  You will need adult leaders, subject matter experts (for Q&A), marketers (web developers and such.  See my post: How to Make a Beautiful Church Website on the Cheap to make a great website for your group), and a whole host of other talented individuals to help with your program.  Leverage off of the help of others in order to make your program successful.

Note: You will need to communicate with your staff, so checkout flockNote to set up some sweet communicability.

Do Your Research!

The most important thing that you can do for your program is to emulate another successful program.  Get in touch   youth ministry leader that you admire.  Take them out to lunch and pick their brain.  It will be the best $20 dollars that you’ve ever spent.  By getting advice from a leader of a successful program, you will save time and money by avoiding pitfalls that they will likely warn you about and by leveraging off their proven success. If there are no successful Catholic programs in your area, find a great non-Catholic program and take their youth leader to lunch.  It’s not that hard and it will be a very good investment for your program.

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  • Matthew Warner

    Reply Reply September 17, 2009

    This is great, Dean! Thank you! I'm forwarding to our youth minister right now.

  • Dean Soto

    Reply Reply September 17, 2009

    You are welcome!! I'm glad that it's helpful! Love you blog, keep up the GREAT work!

  • Mark Alves

    Reply Reply October 2, 2009

    "Adults are facilitators, not leaders" is a great point. A former youth minister always emphasized that our church's youth shouldn't be referred to as the future since they were in fact the present and should be looked to as leaders.

  • Dean Soto

    Reply Reply October 2, 2009

    Exactly. I believe it was Jesus who said "Suffer the children unto me". The youth respond better to their peers. Giving them leadership responsibilities will only strengthen the Church and youth programs if properly moderated. By the way, I love your blog. Fantastic stuff.

  • Stephanie Rodgers

    Reply Reply March 5, 2015

    I loved reading your 6 tips on developing a successful youth ministry. Having the involvement of the entire church and creating a fun, unique environment has been the biggest keys to success from my past experience. Having adults be facilitators and letting the kids be involved and take control and lead the program is a great idea and would give the kids a reason to come back.

  • Lachonda Palmer

    Reply Reply December 25, 2015

    New to doing youth group…Interesting!!!! Thanks

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